How a Hoarding Habit Makes for Misadventure during International Moves

I tend to be a packrat.

In fact, according to my partner Sara, it’s a sickness I suffer from—one whose prognosis is potentially terminal.

As you might imagine, moving overseas challenges my packrat-itis, if you will, requiring me to sift, sort, simplify, and, in most cases, dispossess myself of stuff—stuff I’ve saved, stuff I value, and stuff, Sara says, I hoard.

Mind you, I’m not as bad as my maternal grandmother, who, when once asked what she was doing with a pantry packed floor to ceiling with toilet paper, insisted, matter of factly, that she was “keeping it so all the hoarders wouldn’t get it.”

Toilet paper, specifically, is not my thing.  But paper, in general, is.

Whether or not I inherited a genetic tendency toward possessing too much paper, that’s not what matters most, in this instance.  I suppose, what matters now is making the writer-artist in me get rid of paper products that Sara says litter my life—and my extension—hers.

It’s not the books or journals that bother Sara.

journals 1

She’s agreed we’ll move all of them.

Rather it’s the receipts that drive Sara crazy–the scraps of maps, the images cut carefully from National Geographic magazines, destined, I’ve imagined for collages-yet-to-come.   It’s the papers that push her to the brink, the ones my friend Ellen and I used to call “potential art.”

The concept of potential art, mind you, is one Sara seems to understand only in the abstract, but it’s one that rules my life in a very literal, and Sara says, trashy way.

Call this what you will.  We all have our crosses to bear, and having a few extras of everything lying around is Sara’s, I suppose.

My problem is that I see creative opportunity in almost everything.

At one point it was cat food cans I saved.

can art  before and after 264136_510331762328201_1206984639_n

At another it was empty Equal and Sweet ‘n Low packages I transformed into this:

DSCN2980 (2)

But I’ve stopped collecting cans.  I no longer save the packaging of artificial sweeteners or receipts that evidence my misadventures in retail therapy.

I’m still mad about maps, however—still crazy for cartography.


I don’t know how to handle this addiction.  And, in fact, having to handle it at all is, according to Sara, my problem in the first place—the piles and piles of paper—all to be sorted and saved, boxed up and moved.

So—onward we march toward Ecuador.

Our house has sold, as most of you already know.  Sara is posting our lives item by item on Ebay, selling and passing it along to other potential hoarders.

She insists, however, that my paper scraps won’t sell—that there’s no online market for my bird’s nests, bones, and stones.


(My trash-savvy Sara says I suffer from rubbish blindness.)

Whatever we want to term my sickness, it looks like I’m gonna have to toss my trove of treasures, my stash of trash, as Sara calls it.

But I have one request of you, my readers.

Would you mind saving some replacement papers and pebbles for me, some new buttons, bricks, and bones?  You could mail them to me in Ecuador.


I promise I won’t tell Sara you’ve contributed to my hoarding habit—or her clutter curse.

I swear on a saved sale’s receipt or empty cat food can, I won’t!

Do you or anyone you live with have a hoarding habit?  Does a creative impulse cause paper to clutter your life?  Have you ever had to get rid of almost everything in order to manage a move—international or otherwise?

92 thoughts on “How a Hoarding Habit Makes for Misadventure during International Moves

    • Hey Tori, great to hear from you. However, I would disagree that you have no creative talent–look at how lovely and creative you wedding was–and your blog.

      Things are going well, I suppose. I just find it hard to keep up with everything while we sort, sell, and/or pack things–especially blogging. We are currently scheduled to close on March 29th.


  1. Look at it as opportunity.If you let go of the old possible art, it may free up your mind to find new possible art in Ecuador. In a way, I find the purging required when you move a release of sorts. To some extent, we are all hoarders in this household, although Nathan and Sarah are worse by far than I am. I like the sense of possibility that happens when you clean out the messs and start over.


  2. Ivan just imagine….my youngest daughter is a bit of a hoarder…not sure where I draw the line between messy and hoarder with her. She refuses to toss anything, including stuff she made in school, old toys, things she collected in her grandmother’s house after she passed away. A nightmare! Good luck!


  3. Oh the things we save! My mom and I both are paper hoarders. She makes iris folded cards and is like you that she can not let a pretty magazine page go by without tearing it out and saving it for a card someday. I have my share of papers, too, though nothing to extent of yours. I am sure you will survive the separation from your loved papers and “trash” and start all over again in your new home!! Good luck with the sorting!


    • Thanks, Beth Ann. I look forward to all of the new and, as of yet, undiscovered papers that are in my future.

      And, to be honest, I don’t think my paper stash is all that outrageous. I emphasize that this is Sara’s perspective. LOL

      However, I’m curious to know if there are genetic tendencies to hang on to things and/or let them go. I suspect there is a DNA component at work, at least in part. Interesting that you and your mom share a few of the same traits.

      Have a great day, my friend.


  4. I do, for the same reasons you do, save bits and scraps and miscellany. They look like garbage to anyone else, but I have envelopes full of them. Someone said “there is more trash in this world, Cindy, than you can possibly make art from in your lifetime!” Good point! Good luck! Great post!


    • Oh, Cindy, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your perspective. It SO helps normalize that what to some looks like semi-odd behavior. And I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Can’t begin to tell you how much I enjoyed having your insight–which I can’t wait to share with Sara! LOL

      Hope you have a day full of creative discovery!


  5. Well I can’t say I will mail you these things because Sara would then read it here and when we come to visit in Ecuador she will be waiting with a pile of stuff for ME to deal with. But if someone WAS to mail you these things….I would support that fully. (And yet, share some sympathy for Sara.) 🙂


  6. I have a brother who is the king of PR (PACK RAT), He and his wife had to move a year or so ago after living in one place for 40+ years and she left the garage -packed to the hilt- the basement- and storage building for him to clean out and he could not take any of it with him. |Nothing done, nothing done as time got closer to the move. Finally he had to excise the whole thing and only after did he quietly admit to her that he never realized how much of a pack rat he was. My SIL is equally extreme in the opposite way. Makes for an interesting marriage but after decades they seem to have conquered the handling of it. 🙂


    • OMG, Chris, THAT is an amazing story! Sounds like a serious issue in this instance. Your brother makes me look like light-weight. LOL That DOES sound like a fascinating pairing! I still interests me that one person in a family will develop those tencdencies and another will not! I mean your brother did but you didn’t. I suppose there a studies on this kind of thing.

      Great to hear from you! Hope you’re staying warm!


  7. I think you will feel so LIGHT and full of possibilities when you let go of all that stuff — it’s going to be AMAZING! And like Cindy says, it will open you up to all new artistic visions because no matter how much stuff you give away, you’ll never lose your eyes & heart for seeing the beauty in the things that surround you. I gave away SO much stuff in my last move, and it was really liberating — I’m on the verge of another big purge and I can’t WAIT. Hey, you should have a yard sale & give away the things you can’t sell … that way, you’ll see who’s getting them and I know it will make you feel GREAT to know they’ll be loved by somebody new!


    • I love that you point out how my eyes and heart remain. That’s an excellent point! It is, indeed, exciting to think about discovering even more beauty in new places.

      We do plan on having a yard sale. Plus, Sara is setting things that are worth anything on eBay and Craig’s List.

      Hope your week is going well, dear Betty!


  8. Given how you have explained your packing for trips…I have been wondering how you would ever move all your art supplies…oh I suspect you could replace them once there…but that would mean you’d have to start anew. 🙂


  9. In *most* of the mixed media books I’ve picked up in the last several months, the authors tell the story you do–artists like us pick up and save a scrap because it has good bones, potential. It’s like having a varied supply of tea: hmmm, what do I want today? And what sort of biscuit shall I have with it?

    I feel your pain, dear Kathy.

    Lisa Wields Words nailed it: make room for the new by letting go of the old.

    In my imagination, I see you the artist having divested yourself (painfully) of the old stash, but now walking around Ecuador (holy cow! Ecuador!) with your head up and the artist radar with a full battery, scanning, taking in, combining the new bits, colors, photos, and textures.


  10. Oh! A sale! An artist sale, Kathy! Mixed media artists would flock! Or, do you know any groups who need a stash o’ art materials? Like a place that does art therapy, f’r’instance? *Especially* a place like that. Paying it forward….


    • Darn, these are incredible ideas! I hadn’t thought about trying to market my stash specifically to artists. Also, I adore even more the idea of giving it away to an art therapy program. Will have to see if I can find a place that still does art therapy in Kentucky. LOVE it! Thanks so much!


  11. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I have throw-itis. If it’s not nailed down, I throw it. If it is nailed down, I may pry the nail out and throw it anyway. I crave empty space. I hoard massive amounts of nothing 🙂


  12. You, Ms. Mac, make me laugh. And, I needed a good laugh. If you like, send it all to me and I will ritually burn it out on the bluff while asking the Ecuadorean gods to welcome you and Sara into their laps.


    • So glad you got a good laugh, JK. Happy to provide some levity. I need to email you. Was thinking about you when I heard the forecast for snow in your neck of the woods. Stay warm and off the roads–please!

      By the way, the bone sitting on the shelf, I picked up on a walk with you on Rattlesnake Mountain. Have kept and treasured it all these years. It’s going with me!


  13. I understand your obsessions, Kathy. I myself am loony for lava lamps, rabid for records, and passionate for peace signs. I’m also manic for Mini Coopers. I’m sure you’ll be able to find some really cool discarded cans in Ecuador that you can turn into art!


    • It doesn’t surprise me that you tend toward collecting items. However, your story yesterday about buying the exact t-shirt that Tara had gotten rid of made me laugh and laugh last night! Only you, my friend. Only you!

      By the way, I love Mini Coopers, too!


  14. I’ve got the opposite problem, Sista. I am more Sara than Kathy when hoarding is concerned. Jim will save paper, not for art, just, well, laziness. Then it gets too high and starts chomping on my brain. Eventually, I go through it all, saving important parts and throwing out 98% of it. I have a tendency to cut us to the bone when doing this, so Jim will SOMETIMES beat me to it. I agree with Lisa, though. Trash your stash, move to Ecuador, and begin anew.


    • Doesn’t surprise me that Jim and I share the tendency toward collecting. Sara also gets toward the point where she starts pitching. However, she has been known to throw away stuff, I later want. That part drives me nuts. Maybe I can bring all of my treasures up to Ohio and bequeath them to Jim and Tony. LOL (Sorry, couldn’t help myself, Sista!)


  15. I bet there are some really cool maps in Ecuador. Sometimes it’s easier for me to toss things when I know I’m going to eventually make a trade. It’s also important to understand that ONE dollar is better than TEN dimes, honest!


    • Thanks, Lisa. I really need to keep this idea of making a trade in mind–that I’ve making room for new treasures. Great perspective! And I bet they have awesome maps in Ecuador–you are so right.

      Hope you have a great weekend, my friend!


  16. Haha, Kathy. I’ll totally start saving you labels, maps, scraps of interesting paper, and whatever else. Living with an artist myself, I understand the concept of “potential art”, and I’d be happy to contribute in any way possible. (But don’t tell Sara this– she’ll think I’m taking sides.)

    PS: In all seriousness, if there’s ever anything you’d like me to send you in Ecuador, it would be my pleasure. 🙂


    • Dana, you are such a sweetie. I don’t doubt for a moment that you understand “potential art.” And I can’t tell you how touched I was when you sent labels and papers a couple of years ago. I still have a number of them. Isn’t it funny some of the simple things that can make for an artist’s treasures? Sara has often commented on what a cheap date I am. Doesn’t take much to amuse me. Thanks, again, my friend.


  17. I agree with all of your commenters who view your move to Ecuador as a great time to embrace change and unload the clutter. You seriously think you will not have the opportunity to horde hundreds of cat food cans there? You are by nature a pack-rat, so that tendency is going to go wherever you go. I say, as you start this new chapter, start fresh clutter!

    Right now, because I’ve been on overload trying to finish My Manhattan Project, my tiny abode is a cluttered mess that could use a thorough cleaning, but I make a conscious effort to de-clutter at least once or twice a year. That time is fast approaching.


  18. My paternal grandmother was an actual hoarder like the ones on TV. There were parts of her house that I actually never saw because they were blocked with her collections. She was addicted to shopping at the Goodwill on a daily basis. When I was little, I thought all of her stuff was magical! It wasn’t until I was an older teen that I realized that she had a problem.

    I contain my hoarding to the walk-in closet in my bedroom. My house is really small and my closet seems to be the catch-all for anything that we have no other place to store. Other than that, I’m fairly clutter free.
    From what I’ve seen in your pictures, you have some pretty interesting collections. I’m sorry you’ll have to let some of your goodies go, but just think of all of the new and exciting things you’ll be able to collect in Ecuador!


    • Your comment reminded me of something I hadn’t thought about in a long time. Though my grandmother had a thing for buying lots of toilet paper and saving glass jars, she didn’t have any other extreme issues with hoarding. However, she DID have one “junk drawer” in her kitchen, and I found it magical–sort of like you did your grandmother’s collections. Thanks for that reminder, Sprinkles!

      You’re fortunate to be able to contain your own collecting to your closet. Gosh, I wish I had a walk-in one, myself.

      Great to hear from you today. Hope you have a wonderful weekend, my friend!


  19. We’re living parallel lives right now. I’ve been sorting through my parents’ stash of treasures always with an eye on genealogical significance. It’s the curse of the creative mind. I suspect you’ll find a rock or two where you’re headed.


    • Ya think they actually have rocks in Ecuador! How funny. I isuppose they do.

      Does sound like we are living parallel lives. It must be strange though to be going through your parents’ belongings. I don’t know. I think it would be so, so painful. Hope you find some real treasures.


  20. I have moved so often my tendencies to collect have been tempered, but not entirely. My book collections have overtaken parts of the house. Pictures I have taken are everywhere. Then there are just the things I have picked up, a bowl or a small statue, in my travels they are throughout the house.

    But no, I don’t really hoard. I am down to what I love.

    Just think how exciting it will be to start new collections my friend.


    • I love the way you articulate your perspecitive on possessions–getting down to what you love. I need to develop a similar attitude.

      We have lots of sfuff from our travels, as well–most of which we will hang on to and ship to Ecuador in a container.

      Hope you had a wonderful weekend, my friend.


    • Oh, gosh, we have tons of books! And those we are taking with us. They will be shipped in a container once we are settled. I agree. You can NEVER have enough!

      And, yes, our dogs are both going with us to Ecuador. My Maltese Lucy will go immediately in a carry-on in the cabin of the plane. Our larger dog Ralph will come once we are settled with housing. In the meantime, he will stay with Sara’s brother and sister-in-law.

      Great to hear from you!


  21. Been there done that. I know all about long distance moves – we’ve lived in three countries – and Mr F is an artistic pack rat like you. Just get rid of it all you know you’ll start again as soon as you arrive there.
    You want pebbles? I’ll be happy to help. I picked up some stones when I walked on the Camino. Send me your address when you arrive in Ecuador and I’ll send you a couple 😀


    • Oh, I love the way you articulate that, Rosie–that I can start collecting again as SOON as I get there. That kind of puts a hopeful spin on it, doesn’t it?

      Didn’t know you had an artistic packrat in your life. What does Mr. F collect?

      Thanks for saying you would send pebbles. That will be fun. I will let you know our address once we are settled.


      • I pray for your well being that the “someday” will one day come. That’s always the logic of a collector, however. Potential–if not now–then down the road. Sorry to be so slow getting to these comments. I just can’t pack and move and blog and keep up.


  22. love this! if you haven’t already pitched them, I know an incredible artist who would love those bones and nests! wishing you and your partner in crime everything wonderful Ecuador has to offer! Xo Julia


    • Hey, great to hear from you, Julia. I know I won’t get rid of the bone, as I got it while walking with my friend JK more than 20 years ago. If I decide to pitch the nest, I will let you know.

      Hope you had a wonderful weekend, my friend!


  23. You sound like one of my sisters. She actually enjoys getting rid of stuff. I suppose it makes her feel freer. I wouldn’t say that my mother is a hoarder, but she is beginning to give us her jewelery–and she has a good bit that my dad had given her. That has been fun for my sisters and I.

    Great to hear from you, MOnica. Hope you had a wonderful weekend.


  24. The bright side of this is that although Sara insists you get rid of these treasures, it should be fairly easy to rebuild your collection! Just think how fun it will be to search out and find all new potential art!


    • You have hit on something very important here, Terri. Namely–the hunt, the search for treasure. That’s part of what is so fun fun–looking for stuff. Thanks for making mention of that. Great reminder. Sorry to be so behind with my blog reading. Hope to catch up once we get settled in Ecuador! Great to hear from you!


  25. Very amusing. I have been blogging about the process of clearing through my dad’s hoards after he died a year ago. It has been an interesting and entertaining process with some delightful collections uncovered.


    • Oh, I bet you have, indeed, discovered some interesting collections! I can’t imagine what it might be like to sort through a parent’s belongings after they’re gone. My dad died when I was only 19, so my mother did all the sorting.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment. I am so busy getting ready to move that I don’t have time to read new blogs for the next month or two. But I would love to check yours out after that. Hope you’ll come back again.


    • I’m delighted to hear from you, Kel! I can only imagine how busy your life must be right now–getting ready for a baby. I think I’m overwhelmed, but I bet you have way more on your plate than I do.


  26. Kathy, I have no idea how you’re going to get to Ecuador! (Or, to think of it, how you have ever moved…lol…) Thank goodness you’re with Sara. She’ll get you there. And think of all the cool new things you’ll get to find *and hoard* when you get there! Funny post.


    • Thanks so much for your comment, Kathy! I have to admit–it’s been more than a week since I wrote this post, and I have gotten rid of SO much stuff in the meantime even Sara is amazed. Miracles DO happen!

      Hope you and Barry are having a wonderful weekend, my friend.


  27. Seeing creativity in everything, yet sorting for a big move must be a challenge. Then again, leave it behind and think of all the new opportunities that lie ahead.

    Congrats on selling the house! Because I’ve been away, when is the move?


  28. You have dropped off my email list? WHY?I feel completely out of the loop. I feel Sara`s pain. OS#2 is a “collector”. I`m not moving her “collection” from Japan to Canada. SHe has to figure out how to whittle down her collection in to a certain number of boxes. Sheesh.


  29. every bit of “stuff” you release now means that much more space for new “stuff” in Ecuador. think of things you’ll find to collect and create with. And if you get there and realize you need a box of buttons or………a shout out here will keep the postmistress working to get it all delivered to you. Happy packing.


  30. Living (and moving) with you must be such a challenge for Sara! I can’t think of anything I hoard actually, I throw “junk” out! I do keep old photos, I couldn’t part with any of those, especially the really ancient ones, but that’s the only thing I can think of at short notice!

    Never mind Kathy, when you arrive in Equador, I’m sure there will be a whole range of brand new, “potential craft items” you can begin hoarding all over again. 🙂


  31. Pingback: Wishing for Equality | Woman Wielding Words

  32. In a few days, I’m to our 2nd place…to salvage some photos and throw out photo albums. After living in 3 different Canadian provinces, I’ve learned the hard way. I buy less books now and less clothing in general. But still haven’t kicked my hoarding habit: I have TONS of clean empty yogurt containers. I use them to store food, put art paints for cleaning, mixing.

    I offered them to a children’s art school, but they refused them. ???

    What are you doing Ecuador besides living there?


  33. I try to be as ruthless as possible about things I keep so that I’m always ready for a big move somewhere like Ecuador. Hoarding definitely makes it harder to travel! But when you make such cool art, I can see why it’s fun to keep stuff around to repurpose!


    • Thanks so much. Glad you can appreciate my art. I think I did pretty well in the end with getting rid of stuff. I suppose it will never be easy for me. I’m so happy you stopped by. And I apologize that it’s taken so long for me to respond to your comment. We have now moved into our long term home here in Ecuador. Please stop by again!


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